Politics & Policy

Wake Up, Socially Liberal Fiscal Conservatives

President Dwight Eisenhower gives his farewell address, January 17, 1961.
The GOP isn’t the political party in debt denial.

Dear Socially Liberal Fiscal-Conservative Friend,

 

That’s pretty toothy, so I’m going to call you “Bob.”

But whatever specific name you go by, Bob, you know who you are. You’re the sort of person who says to his conservative friends or co-workers something like, “I would totally vote for Republicans if they could just give up on these crazy social issues.”

When you explain your votes for Barack Obama, you talk about how Republicans used to be much more moderate and focused on important things such as low taxes, fiscal discipline, and balanced budgets.

When Colin Powell was on Meet the Press the other day, you nodded along as he lamented how the GOP has lost its way since the days when it was all about fiscal responsibility.

And, Bob, you think Republicans are acting crazy-pants on the debt ceiling. You don’t really follow all of the details, but you can just tell that the GOP is being “extreme,” thanks to those wacky tea partiers.

So, Bob, as a “fiscal conservative,” what was so outrageous about trying to cut pork — Fisheries in Alaska! Massive subsidies for Amtrak! — from the Sandy disaster-relief bill? What was so nuts about looking for offsets to pay for it?

Bob, I’m going to be straight with you. I never had much respect for your political acumen before, but you’re a sucker.

You’re still spouting this nonsense about being fiscally conservative while insisting that the GOP is the problem. You buy into the media’s anti-Republican hysteria no matter what the facts are. Heck, you even believe it when Obama suggests he’s like an Eisenhower Republican.

Well, let’s talk about Eisenhower, your kind of Republican. Did you know that in his famous farewell address he warned about the debt? “We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage,” he said. “We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”

Bob, we are that insolvent phantom, you feckless, gormless clod. The year Eisenhower delivered that speech, U.S. debt was roughly half our GDP. But that was when we were still paying off WWII (not to mention things like the Marshall Plan), and the defense budget constituted more than half the U.S. budget (today it’s a fifth and falling). Now, the debt is bigger than our GDP. Gross Domestic Product is barely $15 trillion. The national debt is over $16 trillion and climbing — fast. The country isn’t going broke, Bob, it is broke.

When George W. Bush added nearly $5 trillion in national debt in two terms you were scandalized. When Obama added more than that in one term, you yawned. When, in 2006, then-senator Obama condemned Bush’s failure of leadership and vowed to vote against raising the debt ceiling, you thought him a statesman. Obama, who wants to borrow trillions more, now admits that was purely a “political vote.”

Yet when Republicans actually have the courage of Obama’s own convictions, you condemn them.

You nodded sagely when Obama said we needed a “balanced approach” to cut the deficit. He said he couldn’t rein in entitlements without also raising taxes on “millionaires and billionaires.” Well, he won that fight. We raised taxes on millionaires and billionaires exactly as much as he wanted. We also raised the payroll tax on everyone.

Obama’s response to getting the tax hikes he wanted? He says we still need a “balanced approach” — i.e., even more tax hikes.

Anyone who calls himself a fiscal conservative understands we have a spending problem. Do the math. A two-earner couple who retired in 2011 after making $89,000 per year will have paid about $114,000 into Medicare over their lifetimes but will receive $355,000. When will it dawn on you that Obama doesn’t think we have a spending problem? I ask because when he said “we don’t have a spending problem,” it seemed to have no effect on you.

And yet you still think Paul Ryan’s budget was “extreme.” Do you know when it balanced the budget? 2040. What’s a non-extreme date to balance the budget, Bob? 2113?

Look, Bob, I don’t want to go spelunking in that cranium of yours. I don’t know why you think you’re a fiscal conservative. The simple fact is, you’re not. The green-eye-shaded Republicans you claim to miss would be scandalized by the mess we’re in, largely thanks to voters like you, Bob. Eisenhower would take a flamethrower to today’s Washington.

I don’t expect you to vote Republican, never mind admit you’re simply a liberal. But please stop preening about your fiscal conservatism, particularly as you condemn the GOP for not being fiscal conservatives, even when they are the only fiscal conservatives in town.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail at JonahsColumn@aol.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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